Environmentalists, Duke Energy disagree on water quality in Catawba River, Lake Norman

A beautiful Sunday afternoon for boaters on Lake Norman

A beautiful Sunday afternoon for boaters on Lake Norman


The same week that state health officials warned certain people not to eat two types of fish from Lake Norman, environmentalists and Duke Energy sharply disagreed about the quality of water in the Catawba River and the state’s largest lake – the source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people.

A national environmental group – American Rivers – announced its annual list of “most endangered” rivers last week, and the Catawba River is once again on its list of the Top 10 Most Endangered Rivers in the nation. This is the third time the Catawba River has been on the organization’s endangered rivers list. The organization says the primary threats to the river come from coal ash pollution from Duke Energy’s steam plants.

“The Catawba is an important drinking water source for the Southeast that is threatened by storage ponds for coal ash, a byproduct of power generation,” the organization stated. American Rivers asked the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources to require Duke Energy to make sure its storage ponds are well maintained to safeguard the water supply.

Duke was quick to challenge the environmental organization’s findings, and said the water is safe.

“It’s disappointing that American Rivers and its partners continue to bait the public and play on emotions to further their own agenda,” said Duke spokesman Eric Culbert. “This does nothing to serve the Catawba River. While they focus on promoting unfounded gimmicks, we will continue to collaborate with the 18 public drinking water utilities along the river who are taking real action to protect our water supply for this and future generations.”

The Catawba River was designated as one of America’s most endangered rivers by American Rivers in 2008, was listed on the Top 10 Endangered Places in the Southeast by the Southern Environment Law Center in 2010 and 2012, and listed as the 4th most stressed river in the United States by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2011.

The state health department recently issued fish consumption advisories for unsafe levels of metals and PCBs in Lake Norman and Mountain Island Lake, both on the Catawba River chain.

Denver’s Ben Benoit of the local Covekeepers (part of the Catawba Riverkeepers) noted that this year’s designation by American Rivers doesn’t mean that the Catawba is the most polluted or the most environmentally compromised river, but that it is in great danger of becoming seriously environmentally compromised.

The primary threat, he said, is development in the basin, which creates more sediment runoff, more storm water runoff, and more sewage, Benoit said.

Duke’s Culbert pointed out that the utility consistently finds that water quality along the Catawba River is good, fish are healthy and drinking water supplies are safe. He said the ash basin seepage is normal and necessary for an earthen dam’s structural integrity.

The state health department issued a fish consumption advisory last week for striped bass and largemouth bass in Lake Norman in Mecklenburg, Iredell, Lincoln, and Catawba Counties.

Health officials recommend that pregnant women, nursing women, women who may become pregnant, and children under age 15 should not eat any striped bass or largemouth bass from Lake Norman. To guard against mercury exposure and potential PCB exposure, other people should not eat more than two meals a month of largemouth bass and one meal a week of striped bass from the lake.

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